My guest is Brother Phap Linh, also known as Brother Spirit. He is a zen Buddhist monk, musician and seeker. He began his monastic training with Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village in February 2008, and has since composed many of the community’s beloved chants.
Before ordaining he studied mathematics at Cambridge and worked professionally as a composer. A co-founder of the Wake Up Movement for young people, today Brother Phap Linh is actively engaged in teaching applied mindfulness to climate activists, business leaders, artists, and scientists.
As a leading voice in the new generation of Buddhist monastics in the West, he is passionate about exploring how meditators and scientists can learn from each other and open new paths of healing and discovery. He has the conviction that a modern form of monasticism can play a crucial role in bringing about a more compassionate society as well as a much needed collective awakening to our interbeing with all life.
To support the Plum Village, go to https://plumvillage.org/donate
🔥 To find, refine, and operationalize your purpose with joy, go to: https://bit.ly/3lVRhhN
Join the FREE Noble Warrior Facebook Group --> Here
[00:00:00] CK: My next guest is a Zen Buddhist monk, a former composer of former mathematician from Cambridge. He's a former co-founder of wake up movement and organization dedicated to educate young people to meditate today. He's a leading voice in teaching applied mindfulness to climate activists, business leaders, artists, and scientists, and a monk.
Uh, he's really passionate to bring to a more compassionate society as well as their collective awakening. And if you look what you hear, the knowledge bombs that he drops, go to, uh, plum village.org and thick non Han foundation.org four slash donate, cuz the monastery could always use your support.
Please. Welcome brother spirit.
[00:00:53] Brother Spirit: Thank you que thank you for your introduction. Very kind.
[00:00:58] CK: Thank you so much for being here. [00:01:00] It's quite a privilege for us to connect. Um, I have so many questions. I've done a lot of research. You're fascinating man. And a teacher. One thing that I'm curious about since you were a householder and then you became quite active in providing and, and support in educating young people, and then you became a monk.
Can you tell us a little bit about that transition going from being a householder and to being a full-time monk?
[00:01:31] Brother Spirit: Sure. Yes. Um, well, uh, the first time I went to plum village was in 1999 and I was still a student at Cambridge. Uh, so I was 19 and, um, I certainly had no intention of becoming a monk. I was just going kind of out, out of curiosity, more than anything else.
Um, I think I had a, there was, um, something pushing me [00:02:00] unconsciously that I didn't realize until later, which is the loss of my mother. Uh, she had died about 18 months before, and I really had no way to deal with that. With that loss, there was nothing. Um, I had no practice, no tradition, no, no ritual, no, no way.
Even just to comprehend it or to understand it. All I had was my kind of scientific. Uh, training, which I had taken on, um, as a young adult, as a teenager, I, I, I was kind of very much into science as a way of understanding the deepest questions. Um, but I found that when faced with that, you know, with, with the loss of my mother, actually science Def me kind of high and dry
I didn't really know how to, how to handle it. Um, but if you'd asked me, you know, when I first went to plum village, why I was going, I wouldn't have, I don't think I would've [00:03:00] mentioned that because it, I still, I couldn't, I was so out of touch with myself and with my feelings, um, that I wouldn't really even have known, you know, what was, what was really driving me.
Um, but, uh, I consider myself very fortunate to have found my way to plum village, uh, um, and to have had the opportunity there to find something very different from what I thought I was looking for. So what I thought I was looking for was I kind of, I guess, like altered states of mind, or, you know, something, some kind of proof of something more than the material world I thought I was gonna get, like, you.
You know, so I was gonna be taught to levitate or get in touch with other dimensions. I don't know what I, I had all kinds of crazy notions. Um, but I wanted [00:04:00] proof that there was something more than just matter, you know, just particles bouncing off each other. Uh, infinite. So
[00:04:06] CK: you had an idea back then even you were trained scientist.
Okay. So you were just curious, and then this event that compelled you to go to plum village. Yeah.
[00:04:17] Brother Spirit: There was a kind of question it's like, is, is this all there is, you know, or is there. And I thought, well, if there is something more than maybe this guy called thick at hand, uh, is the one who would know, people say he's enlightened.
So somebody just told me like, has this guy he's enlightened? So I said, okay, well, let's go and see what he has to say. We shouldn't miss that. You know, we should at least check it out. And, and I was very surprised when I got to plum village, you know, I came in the summer retreat in 1999. Um, I was very surprised to find that he taught mainly about very, very, very simple things.[00:05:00]
Um, mostly that I didn't want to hear about. I found it really frustrating. He kept talking about just breathing and bringing your awareness back to your body. Uh, he caught, he talked about your relationship with parents and, you know, ancestors and with mother earth. And it was very kind of like feet on the ground.
Very down to earth stuff. And, um, I found it really, really annoying and yet at the same time, like completely irresistible because I couldn't, I kind of couldn't refute it. I, I really tried, you know, I tried to refute pretty much everything he said, um, because that was my training, you know, doubt, you know, skepticism question, everything.
Um, so I was trying, I was really trying, but I found like every single thing he said, I was like, yeah, that's true Uhhuh. Yeah, that too. Okay. which just went on and on. And at some point I think, um, [00:06:00] I started feeling like there's something very special about this man actually, and I've never, maybe he's the first real human being I've ever met.
Just the way he moved, you know, the way he would pour himself a cup of tea hit the quality of his presence. Like the power of it. It was just such a kind of, um, the fact, there was just the fact of him, the fact of his presence. It was so intense in a way that I felt, you know, I'd had wonderful teachers at Cambridge, um, Nobel prize winners and fields medalists, and all kinds of.
Amazing people, but they always seemed a little bit distracted or only half there, you know, compared to him. Um, and they might have been brilliant in their field. Uh, but, but it, I sort of questioned them as a, as a whole human being, you know, they didn't seem to have what he had, [00:07:00] which was this, this kind of depth of, of compassion, of presence, of wisdom.
And so I was kind of, I was like, okay, so what is this about? Is it real? I tried to, I was still kind of fighting it, you know, at some level, um, after the end of the, so I stayed four weeks and after the end of the retreat, I went away and the retreat before, before you go on, actually, I,
[00:07:22] CK: I wanted to, if you can contextualize that a little bit more.
Yeah. Cause what you're talked about is, uh, you know, so, so here's some questions going your way, right. Is it charisma? Is it some, you know, ESP power that he has, right. Some guru ship that he is trying to interact with his students, or, you know, just contextualize that dimensional, um, of the, the depth of presence that you talk about.
Mm-hmm because I think that would give people a flavor of what could be what's possible, you [00:08:00] know, in a grounded way, but yet in a very present way. Mm-hmm, if you can say a little bit more about that, that would be.
[00:08:07] Brother Spirit: I guess there was something about just the way he did everything, even very simple things.
So like in the middle of a talk, he might stop. And without hurrying, just really taking all his time, he would, he had a little teapot next to him and he would pick up the teapot and then he would pour the tea into the cup and then put it back down and then pick up the cup with both hands and bring the cup to his lips and drink.
And it, it felt like every single thing he was doing was the most important thing in the world. The deepest, the most beautiful act [00:09:00] imaginable. And of course it was just drinking a cup of tea about the simplest thing you can do. And yet it was transformed into poetry, into art, into kind of infinite significance, meaning in depth.
And I was like, what is that? What I've never seen, anybody drink a cup of tea like that, you know? And it wasn't the performance. Like he wasn't trying to convince anyone of anything or, or it wasn't like, you know how some people kind of. Um, do things with it's it's like you, they, they fake meaning they fake significance.
It wasn't that it was real. And it was just, and, and there was, and it was seamless because it was like every single thing he did every step he took, you know, when he opened the door and he put on his jacket, you know, when he looked left, right. You know, it was just like [00:10:00] completely uninterrupted presence.
And, um, it's quite striking to suddenly realize that.
I, I think I already knew that, that you could be more or less present. Right. That's something intuitively we all feel, you know, sometimes we are really, really there. Sometimes we're a little bit dispersed and distracted, but you might think that it's kind of like a scale of one to 10 and you hover around, you know, a seven or an eight.
And sometimes you go up to a nine, you know, and a moment of particular emotional significance or something very powerful happens. And you get, you get really present to what's going on and you you're completely focused or you're in danger and you just, you have to focus, um, or those most beautiful moments in your life, the birth of a child, or, you know, the unforgettable things happen and you're completely present.
and then you go back to hovering around, [00:11:00] you know, and then sometimes you weigh down two or three, you didn't sleep well, you know, you you're, you're multitasking distracted by that, but suddenly meeting Tai. Tai just means teacher in Vietnamese. So we just refer to him as, as Tai is a kind of nice it's, it's a, it's a term of respect, but it's quite like, um, endearing, I don't know.
It's, it's quite a, like a, a gentle term of respect. Um, so meeting him and seeing him speak and move and be, I suddenly realized that this, that scale didn't just go to 10. Right. It went and not just to a hundred, but it was just like suddenly instead of one to 10, it was one to infinite. Wow. Yeah. It felt like, oh my goodness.
I, I didn't even realize I was just like scratching the surface [00:12:00] of what it means to really be here. Now, there was this kind of infiniteness to it. So I dunno if, you know, like in mathematics, there's this concept of an asymptote, you know, when it, when it, you know, reaches, uh, uh, it sort of reaching a, a certain.
Limit and, uh, never, it never gets there. It just gets closer and closer, but it has to go, you have to go infinitely far and you know, the further you go along the curve, the closer it gets, the smaller, the distance with that limit gets, but it never lifts. It, it just so you have, so it goes, it's infinite. It can get infinitely close.
And it felt like that it felt like maybe there's something in the nature of the present moment that you can, you can just keep deepening into the present moment. You can keep concentrating your being, your energy, your awareness, your consciousness into this slice of now. [00:13:00] And the more you do that, the more real you become the less like a ghost you feel.
And the less like a ghost, the things in your life are like, you know, you know what it's like when you, when you drink a coffee or a tea or even a water or whatever it is, and, and you drink, you kind of knock it back and then two minutes later, you can't even remember what it tasted like, or it even, or if you drank it or not, you know, and most of our life goes by like that, that we are not really fully aware of the wonder of simple things.
Like, so you just took a sip of water or something and, uh, It would be interesting to maybe end for the listeners. You can try this at home. The next time you take a little sip of tea or coffee or water, try to really actually like turn on all the sensitivity of your tongue in your mouth to feel [00:14:00] the magic of just a liquid substance.
It's just it's liquid. I mean, liquid is amazing. Like it coats, everything, coats, the tongue, you can feel it it's very C and, and then that you can remember that that drop of that little mouthful of water is actually the condensation of a cloud giant cloud that was floating in the sky, you know, few weeks or months ago, before it fell as rain into a reservoir, into a stream and was, you know, uh, went through whatever process it had to go through to get to you to come out of the tap for you to drink it.
But when you drink it, you can kind of feel like, wow, this connects me to the clouds. This connects me to the whole water cycle. And even beyond, I mean, this, the water that we drink is ancient it's, uh, it's, it's always been water. Like most of it is actually from [00:15:00] before, um, before the, the, the, the kind of create the formation of planet earth.
It comes from ISS way. In the rim of the solar system that bombarded the, the earth, the young earth, you know, so it's like more than 4 billion years old. And it's like, we just drink it as though it's nothing. So anyway, this just an example. But to say that Tai did everything like that with this full presence and sitting near him, I sometimes say it felt like sitting near a furnace.
There's something, something these kind of waves of energies coming off him, and you would in the, you know, you'd sit near him and you'd get really clear. You suddenly become aware of all these kind of background mental processes that you, you know, maybe you weren't aware of a moment ago and you suddenly think, wow, I'm so mindful.
I'm really meditating. [00:16:00] And then, and then it's like, oh, hang on. That wasn't in the field. You were it wasn't you? Yeah, it was him. Yeah. So he gives you a taste, but then you have to figure out how to, how to recreate that. You know, how to get back to that place, how to train it because it's it's daily training and everything can be trained.
And I think that that was the, that was the real realization for me that there was this capacity, this muscle, this kind of, um, potential that I had of just how aware I could be of anything. and I had never trained it, but, but now suddenly I could train it and he was giving me the way to do that. Mm. And I suddenly realize like, wow, everything else is built on that.
Mm-hmm like, whatever else I do, it has to start with whether or not I'm aware of it. Like what [00:17:00] degree I'm aware and to what degree I can focus that awareness and maintain it in a steady way, uninterrupted. Uh, and I suddenly realize like all my studies in music, mathematics and science in, you know, anything depended on the quality and the clarity of that awareness.
And yet nothing in my education had given me a way to, to cultivate that, that awareness. So I suddenly thought like, huh, this, this is the foundation. This is, this has to come first. Like if I, whatever else I'm gonna do, I have to do this. Like I have to get down, you know? And then maybe I can, you know, turn my attention to other things.
And, you know, coming back to your original question, like from, from a householder's life to a monastic life that that took several years, um, because I, so I went to P village the first time when I was 19 changed my life. It got me in touch with my grief. It helped me to [00:18:00] handle that. So I was going, you.
Trying to thinking about getting like altered mental states and, you know, kind of crazy awareness of universes. I don't know what I thought I was gonna do, but, but what I came away with was actually a way to handle my, you know, to be with and to feel my grief and my sorrow without drowning
with my mother and with her presence still very much alive in me. Um, and so I, and it really changed my life. It really turned my life around. Um, and, and so I came back at least twice a year, every year after that for, for retreats. Um, but I was in a, I was in a relationship. Um, uh, so my girlfriend at the very first time I came back from plum village, um, we [00:19:00] had the biggest fight of our lives, uh, and she was very kind of like skeptical.
Because I'd changed a lot. Suddenly just declared I was vegetarian. I didn't drink wine anymore. You know, I was kinda like, I was pretty full of it. Uh, maybe a little bit overconfident as well thinking I had figured it all out. Whereas in fact, I hadn't really, were
[00:19:19] CK: you imposing your thoughts on there?
[00:19:22] Brother Spirit: Yeah.
And listen, you know, just, you know, do this, do that. I thought I had figured out, so I was very overconfident and a little bit arrogant and she was, you know, she's, uh, very, very intelligent and sensitive person. Um, and yeah, she wasn't having any of that. So it took a while maybe like two years I think. And I kept, I just kept going back.
Um, maybe after two or three years, she noticed, you know, she really started to see, okay, that he's changed. You know, there are some [00:20:00] like he's listening now. He can listen in a different way. Um, maybe he's taking better care of himself. Um, maybe the quality of his love is, is kind of improving. Um, and she was like, and I think, you know, we went to see a talk by Ty in London when he came to London, um, probably in 2001 and she read about what his book.
So then gradually she was like, okay, fine. I'll go. I'll go see. So she went, she had her experience of plummed luckily. She went on her own. So it wasn't mediated by me. She had her own experience. She made friends with the nuns, she had an amazing time. Uh, and then after that it was like, okay, that's it. We will always go and we'll go together.
And we would have go for retreats every year together, but still no thought of monastic life. Um, because we had this amazing relationship. And in fact, with the practice of bomb village, it got better and better. Like we were more and more in love. We were more and more kind of able to [00:21:00] understand each other, able to understand each other's deepest aspirations, able to support each other, maybe, uh, gradually like, cause each other to suffer less cause it's very painful.
You know that when you, cause the one you love to, to suffer, um, that's not really part of the plan and yet, you know, we do so, so that was, it was beautiful that we were kind of learning how not to do that. And we had a wonderful life. I mean, she was a producer at the BBC. I was a composer in London and, and yet every time we went for a retreat, we kind of felt like after three weeks, we're like, okay, this is it.
Now it's getting really deep. We're really starting to see, you know, into the roots of things and starting to understand our. , but it's not long enough. We want to come back for longer. Mm. We made a commitment in 2004. Mm. And we said within one year [00:22:00] we made like solemn VO each other within a year, we will come back and spend at least three months in somebody we'll do it a three month retreat, which is the traditional, uh, reign rainy season retreat.
Um, that usually it's just for monastics, but in plum digitally, people can, can join that three month retreatment. Like that's what we need. We want to go deep three months. So we arranged everything. Um, and on the last day of the year, you know, since we'd made our promise, we managed to finally leave London.
It was very difficult, you know, to get a sabbatical, to arrange everything. But we did went to plum village, ended up staying there seven months, because three months, months, three months had gone by. It wasn't enough. We were like called London, quit the BBC. And they were like, you know, you don't have to quit.
You don't have to quit. Like, your job will be here when you get back, we'll promote you. You know? And, um, I had commissions as a composer and, but we were just like, no, no, this is more [00:23:00] important. So after seven months we bought a little house in the French countryside, not far from plum village. And we were like, okay, that's it never going back to London?
And this practice has to be at the center of our lives. Maybe we'll create a lay, you know, a lay practice center, practice center for, for lay people. Run by lay people. Um, it's gonna be all about this practice of meditation. Um, but still the thought of monastic life just never came up. Never occurred to us, uh, until suddenly it did.
And that's like that pretty much a little bit of a miracle. Um, I, yeah, I dunno. I mean, I could go into the whole story of that, but it's maybe not the most relevant thing, but anyway, it happened more or less simultaneously that we, that we both realized that there was that possibility. Um, and we were really being called to it [00:24:00] suddenly quite strongly.
And, and it was this sense that our, you know, you could talk about aspiration. You talk about like what your deepest desire, like your deepest dream suddenly it felt like it didn't, it didn't fit in the household's life anymore. It was the household's I felt to narrow anding. We just realized like, if we have a family, then probably like 80% of our energy is gonna go towards sustaining, uh, that family and, and looking after our children and each other and our careers and, and, and that's beautiful.
Like that's a, that is a sacrament that it's absolutely beautiful, beautiful path. There's nothing wrong with it. Mm-hmm but it just felt like. Wanted to give all of our energy to, to this path of, of understanding and service. Um, when I say [00:25:00] service, I mean, like knowing the amount of suffering in the world, there's just this, this desire that comes up from deep inside to find some way to alleviate it, um, in oneself and in the world.
Uh, and, and that was drawing us very, very powerfully. And we felt like, well, there was a promise we'd made to each other, you know, so we'd, we'd been together, I guess, eight years, eight or nine years by that point. Mm mm-hmm and, uh, we had made an, a promise to each other that whenever we had a decision to take, we'd always do the craziest thing.
[00:25:43] CK: if we had to warrior spirit yeah,
[00:25:46] Brother Spirit: yeah. Always gonna be the crazy thing. And so when that decision came up, it was like, lay life, monastic life. It was obvious like which one was crazy. Um, and so we were kind of, I mean, within the first, from the first time [00:26:00] we talked about it, we talked, you know, we had like a, probably five hour long conversation.
Um, but we kind of already knew we were gonna do it. Hmm. Even in that first conversation, um, And so we both were dined. So she's a, she's a nun, uh, here in Palm village and oh, no
[00:26:20] CK: kidding.
how cool is that? Wow, what a story. So I wanna ask you nuanced in that thing, because the way you portray it, it didn't occur to me. Is there any inner resistance that you're dealing with or any kind of courage you need to muster to lean force? This? It seemed very naturalistic. Was, am I projecting too much?
Or, or was there, you know, some kind of grief you need to let go of your, you know, material life and you need to muster the courage and so forth,
[00:26:58] Brother Spirit: anything like that? It was [00:27:00] absolutely terrifying. It was absolutely terrifying. And, um, you know, the, the, the, the material stuff, the house, the car, the money and this stuff, it didn't, that wasn't important.
That didn't matter. It was easy. In fact, it was a relief to let go of all of that. Mm-hmm , but to let go of our relationship, you know, our intimacy, our connection, um, and just like our daily life together, just the amount of time we'd be together just to talk and to, to dream together, that was unbelievably difficult.
It was like a, and it really made. Hesitate, you know, because we were thinking like, are we crazy? Is this just completely insane to do this? And of course, lots of people told us we were insane. Like our families were not happy. Most of our friends were really, really upset as well. Um, and, uh, and it, it is really hard.
It's really hard for the [00:28:00] families, um, to understand. And it's hard. It was hard for my friends. I realize. And I, I, you know, there's things I regret, you know, because, well, it's not exactly regret because I don't regret the decision I took, but I, but it's like, I recognize the pain that I caused by that decision and the pain layer caused myself and, and my friends and my family.
And that's just, it's, it's really, really hard. But I think at the time I tried to, I remember conversations with my friends and they said, but we'll never see you, you know? And I was like, no, no, no, but you know, we'll still be really connected. And you know, I still love you and you know, we'll, we'll talk and, and we'll stay in touch.
We'll write letters. And the truth is not really, uh, they were right. I was wrong. Um, and I, I kind of feel, I feel that pain, I feel the pain I caused them. They said, well, you're [00:29:00] not gonna be in our lives. You know, you're not gonna be there for. You know, the important stuff. You're not gonna be there. You know, when our children are born, you're not gonna be there when we get married, when we have loss and you know, and they're like, no, no, no, I'll still be there.
I'll be in touch. You know, the truth is it's really hard. Um, and you know, maybe some of those friends I'm still closely in touch with and, you know, one has even moved to plum village to, to live near . You were the first . Yeah. You know, and so actually I kind of think, you know, we thought quite naively, maybe more of them would, would come and, and live nearby, not to be monastics, but just to kind of form a community already had that dream together as a group of friends.
But, you know, that was it's, it's happened only partly less than we, less than we thought. And it took a lot longer. Um, so yeah, just [00:30:00] acknowledging that, acknowledging that my father, it was desperately painful for him. Um, he was very invested in, you know, uh, I think he saw us having children. He mm-hmm saw my future as a composer.
Uh, that was very important to him. Like how much he had sacrificed, you know, to, to, to give me that freedom, um, to support me in the kind of education that I had driving me to music lessons every week and using his spare time, you know, drive me to these courses and, you know, just the amount of energy and love he'd put into that.
Um, I think he, for him, it was very painful and he felt it as a rejection of him and mm. Values and, and, and, you know, the path that he saw for me. Mm. But I, yeah, it's, it's so it's very hard. Like I, and I sometimes think that about decisions in general, like a decision [00:31:00] is not a decision, unless it's between two things, um, that you, and you want them both.
Mm-hmm, , it's only a decision if you want both things. Mm-hmm if you only want one of them, well, then it's not a decision it's automatic. You just you go with the thing that you wanna do. Mm-hmm . But the problem here was that we wanted both, like, we, our life together as a couple was so beautiful. Um, and, and so kind of, uh, perfect in, in, in so many ways that, of course we wanted to continue that yet, there was this other desire and in the end it was even stronger.
And partly, it was the sense that least for me, you know, this person I was with, um, I felt like I don't get to keep her for myself. Mm, you know, she [00:32:00] could help so many people and her love could extend to so many people. And, you know, if it's, if it's tightly bound in this kind of magnetic, you know, diad relationship and then maybe extending to a family, it's kind of like, it's not, it's not achieving what it could in the world.
Like the, of her being of her presence and what she can offer, you know? And I, it, it, it was kind of a bet in a sense. It was like, I think I need to kind of give her to the world, um, because of what she can do. And that was incredibly painful. Um, but I have to say like last year when we were on the stage at the, at Ted in Edinburgh and she gave her for our community, I really had the feeling like, okay, 15 years later.
Yeah, we were right. You [00:33:00] know, this is like, she is doing, she's doing it. And it's amazing. This is just the beginning. Um, so you can see her Ted talks is the true dedication on, uh, on Ted and, and, and many, many other things on YouTube and, and so on and so forth. But she's, yeah, she's just an amazing, powerful person who's helping.
I don't know how many thousands of people around the world, um,
[00:33:28] CK: Yeah. So, so let me just do a quick call back, cuz you had talked about the quality of presence your teacher Han had and anyone watching your talks, your DOMA talks would get a sense of that. I got a sense of that equality of presence, you know, the, you know, little seeds that you plan in every sentence that you make.
So I just wanna do a call back to that so that you two, my friend is, uh, you know, reaping the benefits of contributing, [00:34:00] you know, uh, to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people.
[00:34:05] Brother Spirit: Oh, thank you. Yeah. I mean, for me it's all, uh, very much work in progress. Mm-hmm I consider myself, uh, you know, a young monk I've been a monk for getting on for 15 years.
And um, I, uh, I think it's just, we are just getting started, you know, mm-hmm, , there's much more, uh, to develop and to train and other, uh, inside. Um, yeah, but it's, I, I feel very excited about that. You know, I, I, I feel like I always wanted a life in which I would never stop learning. I, I think from a very early age, I, that was a kind of fundamental thing for me that whatever path I had, it would be one in which I could, it went one, which I would never retire and always continue to grow and, and to learn, um, I feel like this path, the monastic path [00:35:00] really is that it allows for that.
I don't have to worry about money. I don't have to worry about being, you know, making a reputation for myself or, you know, having a career or, um, I don't have to worry about any of those things. I'm I just have to take care of my daily practice and, uh, and, and make sure I'm, you know, I'm sticking, staying true to the path.
Um, and it's endless. Mm-hmm , it's not, maybe not even one life, but life after life. That's the value we take when we become monastic. It's like, oh no kidding
[00:35:41] CK: life after life. Wow. I did not know that. I thought you sign up for this lifetime and next life you get to swap out a different identity. That's
[00:35:51] Brother Spirit: fascinating.
Oh, I don't think I would want to, you know, this path, it's just, this is it. This is it. The way [00:36:00] to live.
[00:36:00] CK: ASTO right. You just lifetime after lifetime. Keep going towards the infinite mm-hmm so I wanna do another call back to what you said earlier on noble warrior. Um, we talk about commitment and sacrifice.
You don't know what you're truly committed to until you need to make certain sacrifice of two things you both want or multiple things you want. Exactly. Because that's a great revelation to what you truly value. And it's obvious that you sacrifice intimacy relationships with family and friends and this material life in the pursuit of the spiritual path that you are on.
So thank you for that. Mm-hmm and, and I'm also quite fascinated with your story as well. Cuz in my own spiritual journey to my journey, my path is more of an I WASA path mm-hmm and, and this beautiful medicine showing me [00:37:00] ways, showing me truth that I hadn't thought about before. Um, you know, having encountered it and as such more and more I'm I'm, uh, being called to go to the jungle, actually sit with the medicine with, you know, for extended period of time.
Okay. And I have similar concerns about, okay, what about my career and relationships and all these things. So it's actually quite poignant that you articulated this, um, By no means I have a clear answer yet. I don't think I will do the monastic life quite yet. It's not there yet, but, but, but the seed is growing right?
This, this, this yearning for a deeper spiritual connection to, and then understanding of truth and also being who, who I am. And as you said, move, talk with that full consciousness. No matter what I do, it's something that I [00:38:00] do desire. So I appreciate your story.
[00:38:02] Brother Spirit: Oh, beautiful. Wow. I would say go for it. But
[00:38:11] CK: well, one thing that we do have in common is our love for learning. That mean that's ultimately what brought us together through Rome research. Yes. Through, um, you know, the understanding of the world, the universe now that I, you know, consume more of your content to know the depth of your mind, your, your, your, your presence.
Also you understanding. But before we go there, I do want to ask you this question, knowing what you know today. I think for, especially the seeker types, they have a romantic notion of what's it like to be a monk? Mm. Right. You live on top of the mountain, you just study your scriptures and use your daily meditation.
And then as you said, you don't need to worry about material needs and [00:39:00] success and all these burdens and responsibilities. What are some of the things that you, you know, today, like, well, you know, is just different kind of, I won't say burden but responsibility, right? Yeah. Different kind of cost is just different.
So are there things that you wish you had known, you know, before you joined, uh, and then lived a monastic
[00:39:26] Brother Spirit: life? Good question. Well, I, you know, I think I came in pretty much with my eyes open cause I'd been around the community long enough and I'd seen monastics leave, right. Because not everybody sticks at it, you know, and I'd seen some people I really admired and, and, and thought, you know, would be monastics for their whole lives.
I'd see them go back and go back to lay life and maybe have families and so on. And so I kind of knew a it's not easy. It's clearly not easy. Cuz there are some very, very smart, you know, really inspiring, you know, [00:40:00] powerful people who, in a sense didn't make it, you know? Well, it's. To make it or not make it, they, you know, they chose a different path and which is, and they're also doing wonderful things.
So it's not a defeat, but it's kind of like, if, if I want to do this for, for my whole life, I have to realize that, you know, clearly it's not gonna be, it's not gonna be easy. There are gonna be moments of, of, of challenge, moments of doubt. So I knew that, um, you know, I knew that the community that I was going to kind of live in, um, was very, very beautiful, very, very harmonious, like a really kind of enlightened community.
And yet that there were also issues, you know, things that, um, maybe were not in a accord with my way of seeing the world, my way of understanding things, my priorities. Um, and, um, [00:41:00] yeah, I, I, I knew that it's not, it's not a perfect community, but I, but I, I had really, you know, received good advice from one of my elder sisters as sister Gina, who said, well, you know, we're not looking for a perfect community.
We're just looking for a place where we get enough reminders to come to keep coming back to the practice. And we have enough support to, um, to use the tools that we are offered to cut through our reflections. And if we're doing that, then the community is good. It doesn't need to be perfect. It just needs to be a place where there are tools that you can apply and you get enough reminders to apply them that you actually do it to cut through your afflictions.
Mm. And, and, and so that was my kind of criterion, you know, it's like, okay, if that's happening and if I can maintain that, then it's is good enough. Um, and so, yeah, to come back to your [00:42:00] question, um, it's what was your question? What, what were the challenges?
[00:42:08] CK: Yeah. What's, you know, knowing what, you know, today you had probably some romantic notion of what's it like to be a mark, right, right.
And in, but in natural practice, you're like, oh, I didn't know. I had to do this thing forever and ever. And it's part of being a monk, right. The lifestyle of being a monk, I've known this, you know, let me make sure to tell the, you know, people who think about this, Hey, this is awesome, but you gotta pay this price, this cost.
[00:42:38] Brother Spirit: So I think you're correct that many people have those romantic notions about what it is to be among. I think I didn't have so many because I'd been around long enough to, to see, you know, enough. Um, but I kind of knew what I was getting into. So one thing. There are different kinds of monastic life as well.
So, oh, [00:43:00] I didn't know that. Yeah, there many different kinds of monastic life. So in the, also true in the Christian tradition, there's contemplate monastics and there's active monastics, you know, who are engaged in, in service. And so in the plum tradition, you know, I knew that I was ordaining into a path, a, a, a tradition, um, which in which is known as engaged Buddhism.
So that basically means like, if you want a quiet life, this is not the community for you. Like if you think you want to go and sit in a cave for the rest of your life and, and, and meditate this, isn't, it, that's not what happens here. What happens here is that we offer retreats for anybody who wants to come and learn the art living in daily life and concretely.
What that means is that we offer those retreats. We organize those retreats. We cook for those retreats. We maintain the grounds for those retreats. We have to renovate the buildings to host those [00:44:00] retreats. We have to build websites and, you know, have a, run a registration office and go shopping and buy food.
And you know, it it's like it's a massive operation because we are receiving tens of thousands of people a year. Uh, it's a. And then we go, you know, maybe six months of the year, we'd go on tour getting invited to different countries to, to teach and to offer retreats here and there. So it's very, very active life.
It's not, you know, sitting quietly on top of a mountain. Uh, and in silence having said that, you know, built into the fabric of our monastic life, there is a lot of silence and there is a lot of contemplation it's just woven into this kind of fabric of, of engaged action. Um, so the two really go together, contemplation and action hand in hand.
Um, [00:45:00] and so I was pretty much, I was okay with that. Um, I think, uh, some people are not, you know, some people are like, whoa, hang on. This is too much, too many people, too many retreats. I just wanna, you know, sit in my room and, and, and, and contemplate. And so quite often they end up leaving, you know, if, if that's what they're looking for, this is not, this is not that, you know, this is not that path.
Um, I guess, yeah, I have been, it's been surprising in a sense to find myself, um,
Quite quickly having to be amongst a group of monastics that are really sort of having to take responsibility for the whole, you know, for the community. Um, luckily there's, you know, there's, there's a, there's many of us and, you know, we've got a great team. Um, but, uh, but I think, yeah, that came [00:46:00] maybe sooner than I, than I expected.
Um, and, and there is some aspect of yeah. Of responsibility and a kind of burden with that is quite, it's hard suddenly having to figure out, you know, fundraising, uh, to repair these broken down farm buildings in the south of France, um, in order to be able to receive people, uh, for retreats.
[00:46:24] CK: And so, so on that note, let me ask you a quick question, cuz you had alluded to earlier, Hey, I don't have any worldly responsibility for money and all these things reputation, but now it's transmuted to money for the whole Institute.
reputation for the whole Institute teaching for the whole Institute. Yeah. So tell us a little bit about how does it transmute, because it sounds the same in terms of the responsibilities, but the experience is different. I'm assuming. Yeah. Yes.
[00:46:57] Brother Spirit: So the nice thing is that, um, [00:47:00] You know, like, no matter how it's, it's like something, the Abbott, we have a wonderful Abbott called brother foo, which means DMA friend.
Uh, and he sometimes says, it's like, no matter how good a talk you give, you know, no matter how many people like it on YouTube or, or, or whatever, um, you still get the same, uh, pocket money every month, you know? Cause we have a little pocket money we don't have no money. We have some money, but uh, okay.
[00:47:27] CK: Individually. Yeah. So it's not a
[00:47:29] Brother Spirit: Okay. Okay. It's 40, 40 euros per month. Okay. So you can imagine, you know, these days that doesn't go very far and it's spent on razor blades and shampoo or, you know, so toothpaste, you know, it's like, or, you know, buying little gifts for, for our friends or something. Um, so, uh, yeah, and it doesn't matter whether you're the Abbot, whether you're a senior Dharma teacher, whatever, you still just get 40 [00:48:00] euros a month.
And there's something really beautiful about that because we're not, you know, we're not special mm-hmm because we can give a good talk, you know, we're no more important than, you know, the brothers who are, uh, raking the leaves in the garden, you know? And in fact, we may be raking the leaves in the garden the next day as well, you know?
So, so it's very, we really, we rotate through all the different responsibilities in the monastery and that keeps us humble. Um, Which is really, really healthy. And, you know, we have sometimes very high profile events, you know, you get invited here and there to the, you know, to the car in Glasgow, to Ted, to, you know, speak with CEOs and, and, and, and the dangers that can go to head and you start to think of you special or important, but we have lots and lots of checks and balances in place in our monastic life.
So, you know, you come back into the monastic residence and if [00:49:00] you've, if you've kind of nourished that pride a little bit, you know, your brothers will just chop you to pieces, you know?
[00:49:08] CK: Okay. So do you mind going go into details? Okay. Yeah. Let's not put anyone's head, uh, names in the conversation. Let's say me.
Yeah. And part of the thing, I did a Ted talk and got a meal views, whatever the thing, I came back, a lot of self importance, look how many, you know, views and, you know, prestige, I'm bringing to the village. How would you get me to
[00:49:33] Brother Spirit: to humble me? I'd probably just tease you Uhhuh. It's very gentle often, but it's, it is very like, you know, uh, I remember, okay, so I'll give you a story.
Like one time I was a, as I was a novice mark, so I'd been a ordained a couple of years, but I was kind of like, um, called upon quite quickly to, to facilitate circle. Uh, sharing groups and, and this kind of thing. Cause I had some experience already as [00:50:00] a lay practitioner, so, and there was just a need, like they needed people to help out.
So I went on this tour to Malaysia, uh, with my teacher and, and about probably 30 or 40 months, Mo most of whom I probably all of whom were much, much more senior than me. And I remember, um, we had this retreat in a big resort and I came back to my room after the, uh, we call it Damer sharing, but it's like circle sharing time where we have a group of about 20 people.
And I came back in and I, you know, I was, I was staying, sharing a room with my mentor and I was like, wow. Yeah. You know, the Damer sharing was so amazing. Like so many people cried and you know, they were really moved and it went really deep and, and they were like, huh. And he, he was like, huh, okay. You're counting.
Huh? Counting. interesting. You think, I thought it's about you think the more people cried the better you are. You think you did that OUS merciless? I was like, okay. I guess not [00:51:00]
[00:51:01] CK: I love it. Oh man.
[00:51:03] Brother Spirit: That was the, yeah. The, the Zen sword waiting for me behind the door
[00:51:13] CK: now go clean the toilet.
Oh man. Um, okay. So. Would you say sort of the horizon, right? Obviously you don't, you never get to the horizon is an as and toe, would you say this engaged style of Buddhism, the goal is to awaken people in the, basically in the more the merrier, would you say giving people tools and the environment to do that?
Like, what would you say is the intention of this, you know, very active, very orchestrated, you know, big operation to, um, our practicing, um, Buddhism. Yeah,
[00:51:56] Brother Spirit: I guess there is, um, the, [00:52:00] uh, the wish to kind of seed the collective awakening. Mm-hmm partly cause our survival and the species may well depend on it.
Mm-hmm , mm-hmm, , you know, it seems like our way of thinking our way of seeing the world, our way of understanding ourselves. Um, and our stand, our way of understanding the world has produced this kind of, um, you know, extractive, consumerist, capitalist society that we are enmeshed in and which is eating the planet, you know, and mm-hmm, rapidly trying it rapidly.
Um, maybe reducing the, uh, life carrying capacity of this planet. Mm-hmm mm-hmm and, um, And so if it's our way of thinking and our way of seeing that has contributed to this state of affairs, then maybe we should change our way of thinking our way of seeing our, [00:53:00] our view about what we are, what the world is, what our relationship is with the world.
And, you know, then you have the question, well, how, like mm-hmm what would that look like? What would it mean to change from the view of ourselves as individuals, for example, that are basically in competition with each other, for, for fame, for money, for sex, for, you know, whatever mm-hmm , but kinda currently the way things are.
Right. You know, if, if I, you know, I look back at my education, every single exam I took, every time I was tested, I was tested alone. Mm-hmm right. You know, I was tested as me as this notion of a separate person. That was mean I was never tested in my capacity to collaborate. Mm-hmm you ever taken an exam as a team?
[00:54:00] No, it doesn't happen. You know, you go through whole school and college. Um, and if, and you go to a PhD maybe, and you are always alone. And then after that, once you actually have to start working, you have to collaborate, but you don't know how mm-hmm , you've never been trained to do that. So we are very society and we are trained to have very individualistic dreams, um, constantly competition.
And, and it's even the culture in which competition is kind of celebrated as the way to, to generate innovation. Right? I mean, com companies are supposed to compete with each other because the idea is that that will drive innovation that will make them better. That will make them more efficient. Mm-hmm , you know, with competitive judicial system in, in which, you know, two parties have to basically fight it out to determine what is the truth.
And it's thought it seems to be that we think that fighting is a way to, to, to [00:55:00] discover the truth. Mm-hmm, maybe question that maybe that's not the best way, you know, to, to find out what's true and what's not true. Maybe that's not the best way to tap into our deeper creativity and capacity for innovation.
Um, so, so that's all at the level of view. So then if you say, well, okay, well, how do we change our view? Maybe we already have a little intuition, a little sense that in some way we are interconnected. You know, we have these terms floating around my teacher coined this term into being, you know, so there's no, the question is not to be or not to be right.
Cause there's no such thing as to be a separate entity separately, existent, you can only ever inter be with everything else with the trees that provide the oxygen with the whole planet and the sun that, and time and space that, you know, provides food and, you know, a, a universe that we can live in and each [00:56:00] other, you know, the exchange of ideas and emotions.
And we are each other, we're not, we're not as separate as we, as we think, and that's starting to disseminate into our culture. So there's more of an understanding of our interconnectivity, but how do you really like make that into a cultural transformation? So there's a, there's a big enough shift, a big enough awakening to our interdependence with, with the earth, with the cosmos, to the preciousness, the sacredness of, of everything.
Um, and, and that I believe, and like, if, if we, if we could have that level of understanding of our, of our interconnection with everything, then we would treat everything with a lot more reverence, a lot more kindness, a lot more. Compassion and love, and we wouldn't do as much harm. We wouldn't, you know, we wouldn't be destroying the, the place, you know, we wouldn't be wrecking our, our, our, our one precious planet that we can live on.
[00:57:00] Um, so then the question is, well, if you're gonna do that, if you're gonna, if so, if that's true, if, if, if our view matters, right. Which I, I believe it does, but that's, you can take that as a hypothesis, right? Let's say that's the hypothesis that our view, if we could change it to this more interdependent view would be productive of a different kind of society that would do less harm you.
All of that is a theory. Right? I, I, I happen to think it's a good one, but you can take it or leave it, you know, or you can test it if you want. Um, but then the question, like, if you say, okay, well maybe that's, that's a good theory and want to try it out. Then the question is, well, how, how do you change view, uh, at a collective level?
Like, what is that? What, and, and, and who knows how to do that, right? So I think like, if you wanna learn basketball, you go to the NBA, you know, you go to the pros, you, you, you find the best people, the best basketball [00:58:00] players, and you ask them, you know, how they do what they do. But if you want to learn how to change your mind, right?
How to change your way of thinking, how, how to change your view, then you have to look like across all the cultures on the planet. And through all of human history, where has this been a priority in which traditions, which positions have really invested themselves in understanding how our views are formed and how they can be changed.
And I believe like Buddhism is, is definitely one of those, uh, very, very important lineages that have invested, you know, thousands of years and practice of practice and contemplation in, in figuring out how to do this. Um, and of course there are other traditions it's not to say it's the only one, but it's, it's, it's an important one and a really, really good one.
And I think we have the great privilege to, of living in an age where, um, we can access pretty much any one of the [00:59:00] world's ancient traditions. Um, and those ancient traditions are merging with, you know, with science, with, um, you know, Western technological civilization, not even Western anymore, but you know, industrial revolution started in, in, in Europe.
But, uh, it's now very much global phenomenon. Um, but it, you know, technological civilization is merging, um, with, with this potentially could merge with this ancient, um, kind of the inner wisdom traditions that have that have, that have existed. Mm. I think I very exciting.
[00:59:40] CK: I'm yeah. I agree with everything that you said.
Um, I'm a seeker. If it's not obvious to you, by now, I've done dabble and research and explore all kinds of different modalities. And I really love the rigor of Buddhism thinking and, [01:00:00] and, um, the, the, yeah, the intellectual rigor, the logical conclusion from one thing leading to another. And I, the mechanics of it all, I did VA Pasana and then, you know, I learned a lot about these, um, ideas and principles from that.
And as you said, I try to use my scientific mind to refute those points, but every point, you know, makes sense. So I continue to practice those things today. Yeah. Um, and one thing that I really appreciate is. This intersection between lineage tradition, timeless wisdom to technology that the plum village is embracing.
Yeah, because most, and I used, let's say indigenous leaders of the Amazon, you know, they liked tradition, timeless wisdom, everything, oral traditions, [01:01:00] but they really don't like , uh, innovation so much. Whereas I believe that the solution lies in the middle. Yes. Embrace traditions, timeless wisdom, and lineage, but also see what the tools that there are, and then use it to forward the mission in a way that's, you know, uh, conducive to for, for, for the good of all right.
So I really appreciate yeah. How you are able to do that. Can you share with us a little bit about how either at the Institute or how you think about, you know, striking a good harmony between tradition and then also cutting edge technology bit? Mm,
[01:01:44] Brother Spirit: yes. Um, well, I really have my teacher to thank for that.
Um, the way he kind of set up this very fine tuning, um, between being. Probably one of the most progressive people I've ever encountered in my [01:02:00] life. And yet also being the holder of this ancient tradition and in the sense being more conservative than the most conservative, um, people in, in Buddhism, in Vietnam, you know, people kind of can't, they can't figure out like, is he, is he radical?
Is he progressive? Or is he ultra conservative and super traditional? Because in fact it's like, he said, well, even Vietnamese Buddhism, um, it, it needs to be renewed, but it needs to be renewed because it's strayed from the original teachings of the Buddhi. So the renewal is actually a return to the source.
Um, so it's kind of like, you're not, you're not being traditional enough. You know, you need to get back to the original teachings of the Buddhism of, of, of the Budha, um, to, to really like, be true to the tradition. And yet at the same time, you need to be able to stay completely open [01:03:00] and, and continue to learn and to grow because as soon as you stop learning, while basically you're stuck, you're, you're, you're dead.
Like if a tree doesn't grow, right, it's a dead tree. Mm-hmm . So if a tradition isn't growing, it's a dead tradition.
[01:03:17] CK: So, but, but how, okay. So I, I agree and awesome. Thank you. But what you're saying right now, for anyone listening, even I'm listening, you're saying, oh, go laugh and go, right at the same time, I'm like, uh, I don't know what to do.
So how do you do that? How do you stay true to the tradition? How do you also continue to learn?
[01:03:37] Brother Spirit: Yeah. So this is a good question. I have this, I have this image of, um, of an ancient plum tree, you know, sometimes, uh, you graft, uh, you know, uh, plum trees onto an old roots dog. Mm-hmm . And so the roots are very ancient, very strong, very deep.[01:04:00]
And yet every spring there's new flowers, you know, there's new blocks. There's fresh leaves that the, the, the ancient and the new can completely go together, you know? And, uh, and I feel like Ty really embodied that, that he had this, this freshness, like, he always wanted to be in touch with the beginners, you know, with the, with little children in the summer retreat, you know, he would ask them to come and sit close during the talks, and he would give, you know, the first part of every talk would be for the children.
It would totally. UN impeded by, you know, preconceived notions of what isn't or isn't true, or what is, or isn't Buddhism, you know, they had no, no filters and no kind of, uh, uh, they're totally UN dogmatic, right? Cuz they don't know anything completely open. And he was really nourished by that. I think he really wanted to maintain that, that spirit.
Uh, and I do too. It's it's kind of the sense [01:05:00] that Buddhism is profoundly anti dogmatic. Mm-hmm that truth is found in life, right? Not in a book, right? Whatever you hold onto now that you believe to be the truth. Ultimately at some point you have to let go of it. If you want touch a higher truth, right. You have to be able to let go of that, which you presently believe to be true.
And so what that means is you have to be able to examine everything that you think is true now and already see that one day you will let go of it and transcend it. So that means that it's whatever you think is true, isn't really true. It's not the final truth. And maybe there is no final truth and, and, and yet, you know, it doesn't mean sort of throwing out the baby with the bath world or saying you have to renew everything, change everything, you know, throw away all the ancient wisdom because you have to be humble and you have to say, well, you know, I am also a beginner on this path and you know, maybe there's [01:06:00] there's.
There's wisdom here that I don't fully understand. And before I throw away this traditional practice or this traditional understanding, or way of explaining things, you know, let me actually work with it. Let me actually see, do I, you know, have I let it in enough? Have I understood it enough? Um, and so, yeah, it's that kind of spirit of, of humility, but also of, um, kind of scientific inquiry and readiness to, to, to let go of, you know, something that you believe to be true in order to take another step on, on the path.
And really the sense is that whatever can be said, right, whatever can be written down is always gonna be imperfect, like a partial representation of the nature of reality and the nature of your own insight [01:07:00] and understanding, right? The map is not the territory and all language, uh, is map. You know, it is by its very nature, uh, a compression of what it is that, you know, language points to something which is life, you know, which is our own consciousness, our own experience of the wonder of everything.
But it isn't, it isn't the thing that it points to mm-hmm um, and so it's kind of necessarily. Weird cuz we spend so much time talking and writing things down and, and, you know, try to like codify things and say precisely what we, what we believe and what we understand. Um, and yet in this, in this tradition of meditation, we know that we even have to leave language behind mm-hmm and ideally you leave it behind every time you, you enter into meditation, right?
That that's the, the challenge is to be able to leave behind the [01:08:00] constant stream of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And narrat rating and describing your own experience to yourself in order to be able to touch experience itself directly with no linguistic intermediary, no, you know, inter language.
And, and so that, that, you know, when you have that experience of, of being able to enter complete silence, you know, the mental chatter stops and you see how insufficient it is to describe what's really going on. You know, what's really what this is really all about. And once you see how insufficient it is, and once you have that experience, many times, it, it makes you very, um, cautious about saying anything with any certain.
You know, saying anything as being like this is it, this is completely, definitely, [01:09:00] absolutely true. Um, because you know, that it can't be. Um, and so that gives you a kind of freedom from thinking that you have the final answer, which then gives you space to continue learning. And at the same time you have, you know, because you see that to open your mouth and say stuff may from time to time, actually be helpful for some people, um, out of compassion.
Ideally you do speak, you try your best skillfully to use words, to communicate, you know, something that you've touched in meditation because you think it might actually help. And because it, and because you've been helped, like I've been helped by my teacher, very skillfully deciding to, you know, enter the thicket, you know, the labyrinth of using words.[01:10:00]
Um, he actually did it skillfully enough that he could, he could help me touch something that's beyond words. And the Budha did the same thing. Like when you go and read the sutures, it's all words. And yet what he's pointing at is something beyond the words. And he did it skillfully enough that I think, okay, Maybe I should try to do the same, but because I'm so inexperienced, I'm gonna rely more on what they did.
Mm-hmm right. I will reference the sutures and I will reference, you know, my teachers interpretation of those sutures or commentary on those sutures, because I know like I'm not there yet. You know, I don't have that wisdom yet. Exactly. You know, how to tune that, you know, which words to use and which words not to use, I'm still learning.
Um, and so that makes me cautious about just changing everything and switching it all up and throwing out what they did. Um, because I'm kind of, I'm like, I, I don't have it yet, you know, so I, I'm still, I'm still figuring [01:11:00] it out.
[01:11:01] CK: So pause on that real quick. Uh, I wanted to allude, uh, to what you said with the illustration, for those of you listening, how do you describe the totality of this phone with language is impossible.
There's no way you can just describe everything about this phone with infinite amount of words. Doesn't matter, because words is an abstraction to the idea of this phone and the functionality of this phone and the meaning of this phone to me or to you or wherever. So what, uh, brother spirits alluding to is exactly that.
So coming back to the, the beautiful, um, mastery of someone who, uh, is a Buddha or a thick Han, who's been articulating the truth with their abstraction, with their narrative, with their words. So I'm curious someone who is a seeker, who's a hundred percent a student, [01:12:00] sometimes a teacher myself is in the articulation, in the grappling, in the attempt, in the effort that I get better in articulating the truth of that.
So in the beginning of my journey, I will borrow a lot of right. The, the narratives, the quotes, the, the tools that other teachers have long passed down as a way to illustrate my point. But I also realize it's in my own attempt, using my own words, I have a much deeper, uh, nuanced understanding of it. So long way to ask this question.
Uh, at what point did you stop being a student and start to step into your role as a teacher?
[01:12:43] Brother Spirit: Hmm, well, I don't think I have stopped being a student. Uh, I wanna be a student, uh, my whole life, but my teacher, you know, I had a kind of realization at one point that, [01:13:00] you know, There's a thing that happens, you know, when you have a famous teacher, like Ty mm-hmm , uh, that he was very aware of and really tried to guard against, which is that you end up kind of defying a little bit, the, the teacher and that's happened with the bud too, you know, that people in many countries in different traditions, they kind of make him a little bit into a God.
And he, he really tried to say, no, I'm just a human being. And the whole point is that you too can have this depth of understanding and, and wisdom that it's innate in all human beings. Uh, and yet, you know, I see it now in my teacher passed away this year on January 22nd. And there's a tendency to kind of, um, yeah.
To, you know, to really kind of venerate him, which is partly very correct, you know, because he's just such an extraordinary [01:14:00] human being. But he was, you know, in his teaching and in his life and his way of living, he was always trying to kind of deflect that he was never, ever looking for recognition. Um, like most of his teachings kind of went out into the world and have been disseminated and are now coming back, you know, in other forms and getting appropriated here and there.
And he'd never put his name on it, you know? So a lot of it is to, but you don't know that it's sticking a hand. It's just, you think that's, that's just meditation, but maybe. It was actually in large part due to his way of teaching that it's, that it has spread and dissemination.
[01:14:36] CK: Do you mind zooming on that point real quick?
Like he found out that what he said some time ago, someone appropriated or adopted it or changed it without giving attribution. Yeah. It's natural for a regular human. I don't know how think that hung react right. This like injustice. I want my credit kind of a thing. How did he interact with, you know, I'm sure it's constant [01:15:00] right realization that somebody borrow or steal his material or his ideas.
[01:15:05] Brother Spirit: He never, he never said anything about it. Never. He completely unconsented. If anything is up it's us who are kind of like, Hey, you know, on that app, you know, you talk about walking meditation, but that's, that's the way tie taught walking meditation in plum village. And nobody else teaches it like that.
You know, you know, or now everybody's talking about mindful dish washing or, you know, who was the first person to talk about mindful dish washing, definitely taking at hand. That's like one of his signature practices, you know, now it's just, it's out there even mindfulness itself, you know, like really he, he was the first person to introduce mindfulness to the west with the, with the miracle of mindfulness.
And now it's, it's kind of like, you know, it's, it's everywhere. Of course, like he didn't invent mindfulness. It's it's, it's, you know, part of an ancient, but his tradition, but his way of teaching. And his way of translating it and making it [01:16:00] accessible to a Western audience, you know? Yeah. I'd say that's been appropriated here and there, but he was completely free from any concern about that, you know?
And I think, you know, sometimes it was almost frustrating. It was like, please let's, you know, if we could defend this a little bit more, uh, you know, then maybe, you know, uh, it would be easier to, uh, you know, maintain this large international organization and maintain the buildings and have a little bit more resources
[01:16:31] CK: yeah.
So what, what you're pointing to as a it's a little paradoxical, right? It was very,
[01:16:37] Brother Spirit: and I think, you know, he, he was like, he doesn't wanna be famous. He lived a very, very anonymous life. Um, he avoided all, so many, like potentially, uh, kind of reputation making interviews. He would just turn them down. You know, he had this rule.
It's like, if you're a journalist, you wanna come and interview tight, you have to come and practice in the meditation center [01:17:00] for a week before you, so it's like, if you're not practicing mindfulness, you won't understand what I'm talking. Mm. So, and live here for a week. And of course, most journalists don't have time to do that.
So then they begin to cancel and that's that?
[01:17:15] CK: I appreciate you. That is not a requirement to interview you, even though I will love it to visit plum village one day, but I appreciate that it's not a requirement in our conversation. Not yet. yeah, not yet. Not yet. Uh, but I wanna point to something because, uh, in the, in the game of bringing more awareness, Buddhism and the practice, and, and then also the juice basically, right?
The, the, the potential reward of doing this, uh, simple act of meditation, and then following these traditions, it requires profile prestige mm-hmm . So then the world knows about this human being or a person or [01:18:00] institution at the same time, the practice is not about self importance, so it's a little paradoxical.
Um, how do you reconcile those two notion? Because, you know, knowing you, I know you're not about self importance, but building reputation helps the entire institution. So how do you reconcile that in your mind?
[01:18:23] Brother Spirit: Yeah, what I, I think, um, what's wonderful about monastic life. So say for example, Emma composer, right.
And I'm continue to composer as, as a monk. So I. Chance for the community, or I write little bits of music for films and things that we put out into the world. Mm-hmm I experience it as a blessing, you know, that I don't have to, um, depend on that for my income or my career. Like it, I don't have to be a famous composer.
Uh, uh, I, I can [01:19:00] just do it out of love mm-hmm and, um, and that gives me an incredible freedom as a composer because I'm not dependent on it for my, for my livelihood. Mm-hmm and in the same way, you know, when it comes to teaching, um, whether or not I give a good talk, it doesn't matter. Like I still have, you know, rice in my bowl at lunchtime and 40 euros a month pocket money, and a place to lay my head at night, you know, and a meditation cushion to sit on.
Um, and, uh, that's, that's kind of amazing. And also like if maybe I do something prominent that sticks out a little bit, but then the next day, you know, I'm just folded back into the brotherhood in the community. And I kind of, I get to disappear again, um, and be more anonymous, which is a real relief. Like it's I experience it.
It's so wonderful thing. Um, not to always stick out and, [01:20:00] and yet, like you say, um, For the organization, it's, it's helpful that people know, uh, the name, you know, of plum village tradition, you know, um, and plum village monastery, uh, is, is sort of becoming known as a, um, I guess something that people can trust, you know, where we haven't had any scandals, like there's high integrity.
Um, there's a lot of care, uh, to maintain our ethics, our ethical conduct, our monastic precepts, you know, all these things. We, we really like hold to, um, which then I think does allow people to kind of take refuge and to go, okay, these people are not after my money. They're not, you know, they're, it's not a scam, it's not a cult.
It's like the it's sincere. Um, [01:21:00] and so that's, that's important. Um, and then, you know, we have the challenge of kind of like, well, so many people want to come like this summer. We had, uh, summer opening for, for like first time in the last three years because of COVID. And so we, uh, you know, our summer opening was fully booked within 10 minutes.
[01:21:23] CK: Awesome. Congratulations.
[01:21:25] Brother Spirit: Well, it's a great problem to have. Yeah, but what that means is there's many, many poor people who would like to be able to come to Palm village. But we don't have the facilities to receive them. So we don't, we just don't have enough rooms mm. Or toilets, or, you know, the right kind of water treatment system and, and, and so on.
Mm. Which means somehow we need to raise money to build better facilities, to be able to receive more people because people want to come. So it's not like we are doing it in order to be known as Palm village or in order to make a big, you know, 30 foot golden, but, [01:22:00] or something, you know, it's not about that.
Like you wanna simple ecological, uh, residents blocks, you know, that, that people can come and stay in and be, you know, live very simply but comfortably so that they can enjoy, um, a retreat here. And, and then we have the paradox that, because we want to keep our retreat fees very low. It means don't have a lot of surplus.
So we, we, we run, it's a very lean operation when you, I I've calculated that. I think it costs, I dunno, exactly. But I think it's about six to 8,000 euros a year per monastic. Mm wow. And that's like healthcare travel. Um, that's actually a share of all our utilities, like gas, water, um, that's everything, food, everything.
Um, and I don't, you know, there's. I mean, like in France, I don't [01:23:00] think know how many people can live on, on that. That's quite hard. And yet we, you know, we live very simply, but very well. Um, and as a whole organization, we don't, we don't have a lot of surplus. We just cover our costs with, with retreats about 50% and 50% from donations.
And that enables us to keep the costs for those retreats low. We give a lot of scholarships, you know, we, I don't think we've ever turned anyone away, you know, anybody who wants to come for a retreat, they, you know, we, we figure, we figure it out so that they can come. Awesome. Um, yeah. And then, but because we want to keep it like that, that means that, you know, when we have to raise 12 million euros, you know, to renovate all these, all these buildings, it's, it's a struggle like it's, it's, it is hard.
Um, so that's, yeah, that's the kind of pinch point that we're in now because it's kind of like, we've grown so fast. Um, and, and now we are this, you know, we've gone from this little, almost [01:24:00] refugee village, you know, that Thai Thai built, um, to receive, uh, both people from the Vietnam, you know, from after the Vietnam war so that they could have a place to land and, and nourish their Vietnamese roots and, and be connected with other Vietnamese people that, from that, you know, with nothing, with no money, it's grown into this large inter.
Kinda retreat center and with 11 centers around the world. Um, oh, wow. Yeah. Then seven months. Amazing.
[01:24:31] CK: Wow. The lineage, congratulations. I mean, that's such good work and I'm very moved, inspired by decades of work that, uh, your teacher started and the legacy now continues even beyond his lifetime, beyond his name.
Right. So, um, and I think, you know, let's see, how do I ask this question? Well, one, the opportunities for virtual [01:25:00] programs, it's something that's really obvious to me, right? If you can't house them physically, I'm sure people would rather take a virtual program rather than not having any support at all. So a virtual program would make it infinitely scalable, so to speak.
Uh, and I think it would be, uh, it's figure outable, right? To be able to do a virtual program somehow that's
[01:25:25] Brother Spirit: something that is something that happened kind of automatically, um, during the pandemic, because we couldn't receive people here because of the lockdown. And so we had to, we had to figure out a way to reach people.
So we did start offering online retreats. Oh great. You know, our teacher type way back in 2009, he said, you need to build an online Mona. , you know, you need to put all of this stuff online and make it accessible to people, um, so that they don't, you know, if they can't afford to you, as in you personally, you, as in generally [01:26:00] us,
[01:26:00] CK: was like, why you were single out.
That was awesome.
[01:26:04] Brother Spirit: I was one of, one of the, you, uh, one of the small number who were kind of like do it mm-hmm and, um, and we, it was a struggle. We were kind of like, but we have no money and, you know, it's like expensive to figure out and it's difficult to do. And, um, and eventually it was COVID that kind of forced us to mm-hmm to solve that problems.
So we have, we did a lot of online retreats, but it's not quite infinitely scalable because, um, the experience, I would say like the, the, the, the, the motor of the retreat, the thing that really generates the power of the transformation is live, um, presence in small groups. So like, we would have maybe one or two monastics per group of 20 people.
Mm. And because there's not an infinite number of us, then that, you know, that limits the number to about a thousand, usually like from plum [01:27:00] village that we, you know, that we can reach in, in, in a single retreat. Um, but we are looking into how we can take that a little bit further, cuz we have a big international community of practitioners and facilitators, even if so beyond the monastic community, there's, you know, tens of thousands of other, uh, of people in our tradit.
um, who could facilitate those circles. So that's actually something that we're gonna start doing in, uh, in August late August is we're gonna start
[01:27:30] CK: online. Well, please, please let me and my viewers know this is something that, you know, I'm down personally. I'm sure my viewers would be too. Uh, I do wanna challenge the notion of not being scalable yet.
All right. So I've done, uh, a PAA program. I don't know if you've ever done what Ji's version of a PAA. So it's his teaching of him recording, obviously he's not alive. So it was his teaching. And [01:28:00] then there is a, uh, a meditator that would meditate with us. But the teaching part is from going Kaji from, I don't know, eighties or seventies or something like that.
So back back in the day, just wanted to nudge you a little bit more on the possible, uh, scalability of the teachings. Yeah, I
[01:28:21] Brother Spirit: think that's kind of how we'll do it. You know, we're gonna have teachings from Thai, um, curated and maybe like a 10 week course or a 12 week course, something like that. And, um, and then there will be some live aspects as well.
Uh, some Q and a sessions with us, or, you know, circle sharings, but facilitated not only by monastics, but also by late practitioners cuz. You know, it can't maybe not infinites getable, but you know, we can go from a thousand to 10,000 or mm-hmm, quite easily
[01:28:51] CK: a book he may want to check out by the way, brother spirit.
I know that I'm giving you unsolicited point. No, you know, uh, resources [01:29:00] like, like Bruce Lee said, take what's useful throughout. What's not and make it yours. So if whatever doesn't land, throw it away. I don't mind the book that you might want to look into is, uh, the purpose driven church. Hm. By this mega church founder, Rick Warren mm-hmm he wrote a really famous book called the purpose driven life.
Uh, he wrote another book called the purpose driven coach. It's about the mechanics of how they built this massive church international church. Okay. So you may want to look into that. Oh, check it out. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I think church, this is totally a SI thing. Has a slightly different flavor of one, a monastery.
I think, I think people have this idea that monks oughta have a vow of poverty. So people charge very little for the great service and the good will that in [01:30:00] healing that you're helping people do. But, um, but I think, you know, as a, as a conscious capital capitalist, I think maybe you could raise your price a little bit.
So so that you can build a 12 million, uh, you know, dollar worth of infrastructure so that you can receive more people, you know, all
[01:30:19] Brother Spirit: the, we, we do have a vow of poverty. I mean, we, we live very, very simply as monastics. Um, but we do also want to be able to yeah. Offer a retreat experience, which is of, you know, it has to be up to code, for example, it has to be up to the European mm-hmm , mm-hmm, the public.
And that just doing that is very expensive to be up to the fire code. And mm-hmm, , you know, everything else, handicap, accessibility and, and so on. Um, so yeah, it's, it's a question and we are, we are kind of actively looking into it. One thing that we can do is offer some, um, kind of bespoke retreats [01:31:00] to mm-hmm , um, you know, to corporations and so on, who can pay more mm-hmm and then make even our retreats accessible to as many people as possible.
So without raising the prices too much for mm-hmm for people can still come, cuz we don't want, we're not interested in only serving a kind of wealthy, clear on tell, um, mm-hmm that would be counter to our, our kind of purpose and mission. Um, but may, but there are maybe ways to, to have, uh, you know, people who can support.
At a higher level, uh, make it possible for, for, for, for everyone else to continue to, to come and have that experience. So it's happening, it's happening. But yeah, that's definitely something I didn't expect as a monk. I was kind of like, wow, I'm gonna be a fundraiser, you know, that's
[01:31:52] CK: fundraiser, setting prices.
things like that. Um,
[01:31:58] Brother Spirit: like managing a [01:32:00] multimillion Euro construction project. Yeah. Yeah. Who knew
[01:32:06] CK: yeah. Interesting. How life takes you in terms of governance. And then I'm interested in this, not so much on the plum village as an example, but because you, as a group are so successful in scaling transformation, awakening in the, you know, engage monastic way that you are, uh, what was the word I was gonna ask?
Oh, governance. Right. So, so governance is always being challenging in conscious organization because corruption is so easy, right? Yeah. The gr ship, the, you know, exploitation of, uh, students and so on and so forth. So, so you seem to be doing well as a group collectively and a very high level of integrity and also, uh, operation wise, worldwide and everything.
How do you govern. Decision [01:33:00] making, you know, allocation of resources, expansion, and all these decision making type
[01:33:04] Brother Spirit: things. That's a very good question. So one thing is that Ty, uh, when he was alive, did not consider himself the boss, you know, the CEO or the leader, he was a teacher, but he didn't actually, it was kind of extraordinary.
He didn't really involve himself in the day to day decision making process, even though if he had, you know, everybody would've said yes to, you know, everybody would've just listened and gone. Okay, whatever you want, boss, you know, we, we, we got it, but he deliberately didn't do that. Um, because he knew that if he made us dependent on him for all the decisions, then once he was gone, then the whole thing would fall apart.
So he was looking much further ahead and also relying on, I mean, you gotta realize like the Buddhist monastic, um, uh, kind of, uh, organism, you know, is very ancient. It's maybe the, one of the most ancient, continuously existent, [01:34:00] um, organizations on the planet. Um, and, and so it has built in kind of protections for exactly this kind of thing.
So one thing is consensus decision making. So in principle, Uh, for any important decisions, um, it has to be the council of big shoes, uh, or the council, what big shoes are fully ordained monks. And I see got it for the ordained nuns. So the big council or the big shoe council are the kind of decision making bodies and the decisions are taken by consensus.
So it's kind of one person, one voice it's very democratic. Everybody can speak, but it's this, we, it is a very, very interesting combination of democracy and hierarchy because there, so everybody has a voice, but there's a recognition that those who have been in the monastic practice longer, you know, so maybe somebody who's been [01:35:00] among for 30 years or 30, 40 years just has a depth of insight and, and wisdom.
That's gonna be a little bit different from somebody who's just been practicing for three years. Mm-hmm so it, somehow when that brother speaks, if he speaks, it carries a little extra weight, but there's no voting, right? So the idea is everybody has to, um, arrive at consensus. That means everybody has a chance to share.
And then there's a period of kind of listening to the whole community where you get to sort of feel like which way the community is leaning. And then the facilitator will say, I'd like to propose, uh, this as a consensus, you have to have a skillful communi uh, you know, facilitator who can include enough of the different views that have been expressed to make sure everybody feels that they've been heard.
And then if there's one or two people who, who really [01:36:00] have a different view, they are basically invited for the sake of harmony to let go of their view. So you can't. So the problem in a voting system is that you always have some proportion of people who are disgruntled and it's maybe up to 50%, you know, mm-hmm, unhappy, right?
So that's not, that's not great for long term harmony. Whereas with consensus in principle, with every single decision that's made, you can only make the decision when everybody has agreed to it. Everybody kind of goes, okay, yes, this is the way we're gonna go. Um, and that relies on the things that only works because everybody's meditating, you know, everybody's, everybody's recognizing their emotions, you know, when they get triggered by something, by a, by a view, you know, they, they recognize like, oh, okay, this is touching something in my past, you know, I'm getting triggered.
I need to take care of my emotions. I need to calm [01:37:00] myself down. You know, I need to check my perception, you know, am I sure that that's what they're saying? Did I misunderstand? You know, mm-hmm, , it relies a very, very high level. Of kind of self awareness of each member, uh, and a depth of listening and presence, which is sadly, maybe a little bit lacking in our current, uh, you know, political arenas.
Um, but it's very beautiful. It's very powerful when we are able to do that. And, you know, the, the, you feel energized after a meeting like that, you know, after, and I, I, I have the experience of going into a meeting really thinking like, okay, it has to go like this, but then once I've listened to my brothers, I can do a complete 180.
I'm kind of like, oh, I really hadn't seen these other aspects and I'm, I totally let go of my view. And I'm, I, I see things, things in a completely new way, and that's a wonderful thing. Like I want that I don't want to just be confirmed in my own view. That means I haven't learned anything. Mm-hmm [01:38:00] like, if I can be wrong, you know, then I've learned something and that's, so that's a, that's a good thing.
Um, so I think it was very interesting that Ty actually let us, you know, I, I kind of saw him. I felt like sometimes he let us make mistakes as an organization. He let us do things that he could see wouldn't work or would maybe cause a car crash, you know, further down the line. Um, but he let us do it because he knew that that ultimately would mm-hmm.
To grow and to learn and to get stronger. And if you Veed and said, you know, no, like, you know, you should really make this decision then, you know, it would just, it, it, we, we would be kind of infantalizing and, and it would undermine the power of that, of that big shoe council or big CUNY council. And
[01:38:58] CK: so, so [01:39:00] interested in what the, normally I'm not interested in like CPAN type of right TV shows and watching the political process, but this sounds fascinating.
I know it's obviously private and close, but I would just like, I love to just be a fly in the wall and just see how, how this meeting is conducted.
[01:39:20] Brother Spirit: Yeah, no, it's a very special thing. And our, our Abbot, um, brother , uh, is a master at this. Like, we were very, very lucky. Like we, he, he became a monk when he was 13.
And so he is really steeped in this tradition and, um, he has a great skill in, in, you know, including all the views, making everybody feel that, you know, what they, you know, their sharing has been heard and recognized and included in the consensus, in the, in the synthesis of, of views. Um, yeah. That he, that you can find some stuff on his podcast about that.
The there's yeah. A podcast. [01:40:00]
[01:40:00] CK: Yeah. The
[01:40:00] Brother Spirit: way out is in.
[01:40:02] CK: Okay. I will, I will, I will check them out. Thank you. Check it out. Yeah. It's wonderful. Amazing. Um, do you mind if we do some rapid fire questions? I know the nature of our conversation is in rapid fire, but you know, we're gonna try to do a little more rapid fire.
Is that cool? Yep. So what attracted you in the very beginning of monastic life or coming to meditation? Retreats is the possibility of superpowers, right? ESP, extra sensory powers. And you hear that a lot in other traditions, right? You touch, you know, the right here and you see your past lives or whatever the lure may be.
Haven't been practicing since 2008. What would you say? You know, a long time practitioner, the quote superpower, it will give you?
[01:40:55] Brother Spirit: Mm, well, I think there are many, but, [01:41:00] um, one is to be comfortable with discomfort. Yeah. I think, you know, we, we may think about attaining happiness or, or peace or something like that as being like, like a constant state of bliss.
But in fact, I don't think that's what it is. Happiness is actually is just accepting things as they are and being okay with that, you know, having a kind of equanimity. Um, with suffering with pain, you know, with discomfort, uh, and discovering maybe that that discomfort or suffering pain is not actually discomfort, suffering or pain, it might be just to do with our way of conceiving it our way of perceiving it our way of perceiving ourselves.
Um, and so it's this kind of like capacity to touch into, [01:42:00] uh, yeah. Happiness in the present moment, which is a kind of profound okayness with things just as they are. Uh, even if like on another level they might, things might not be as you would ideally wish them to be, but you're kind of still okay with it.
Uh, yeah, I think that's, that's something that I see, uh, more and more from yeah, in my experience.
[01:42:31] CK: Beautiful. I love it. Uh, quick share. Uh, 20, 22 has been a pivotal year for me because I started to sit with, uh, iowaska with indigenous leaders. And one of their core teaching is the phrase. So agree, which means only joy.
Mmm. So that's just over and over again, sore, sore during a very intense, I was, you [01:43:00] know, journeys and up and down, and, and I'm learning as a human to, just to have joy, no matter what level intensity it may be high or low doesn't matter, just, you know, even I'm stuck in traffic or my rental car has being delayed four hours just only joy only I only joy
[01:43:23] Brother Spirit: call. Um, uh, he, he, he said, he said this phrase, drifter, Damas Sohara, which means, uh, dwelling happily in the present moment. Mm. So drer is actually the verb. Uh, the root of the verb is to see, so it's kind of, drer DMA is phenomena. So it's the phenomena, which are now that, which is now being seen happiness FIJA dwelling.
So it's like dwelling happily in that, which is now being seen, which is a kind of proxy for which is [01:44:00] being heard, felt, you know, tasted, smell coed. So it's like the present moment. The, the is, it is always possible to dwell happily. In the present moment, kind of like the that's the gem, uh, in the hard notice, that's the secret, which is very strange because we conceive of happiness in our culture completely differently.
We usually think of happiness as which comes to us once, you know, this, or only when that only if not this, once this finished, or once I have completed this, once I have achieved that once I have become this, once I've got rid of that, once I'm away from that person, once I'm with that other person, once I haven't always deferred right later wants something.
And of course it never comes because all we have, [01:45:00] all we have is this one moment. And so the trick is to realize that, you know, cuz when I heard my teacher, you know, sharing that and he would say, well, the Buddha said, Dr. Damas is possible to dwell happen in the present moment. I would always say to myself, but, but how, you know, like when is he gonna tell us how it's possible?
Right? And then at a certain moment I realize, well, if there's a, how, if there's something that you have to do, then it's not the present moment. If there's a, then it's in the future because it's like, after I've done the, how, then I'll be happy. Mm. So the secret is, there is no how, right. Because it's already, now
[01:45:55] CK: it's one of those, the truisms that it's [01:46:00] impossible to refute, but it makes the mind crazy.
[01:46:03] Brother Spirit: Absolutely. It should.
[01:46:05] CK: Yeah. Just be here now and, you know, get the only join in this moment. Yeah. It's very annoying. It makes like a crazy,
[01:46:18] Brother Spirit: you know, I have trauma, but you know, happened to me or, but I'm in debt or, you know, it's like, yeah. And yeah.
[01:46:30] CK: Um, definitely a longer talk. So speaking of rapid fire, let me get back on track on that. all right. No, no, it's perfect. I, I love our conversation. So what about you and I, we met from Rome research.
You are, you embrace modern technology. You embrace scientific reading scientific paper and sliding scientific paper. So you are obviously a practitioner of, um, meditation practices, [01:47:00] but he also, uh, have practices that hone your. Using, you know, RO research and so on, so forth reconcile for us. How, uh, maybe this is not a rapid fire question, but how do you, how do you hone your mind in, at the same time still being present?
[01:47:21] Brother Spirit: well, I, I would put it differently. I'd say like being present, learning to be present is honing the mind. Okay. That's the honing the mind. Um, because that's the, you know, like I was saying right at the beginning, that's the fundamental mind skill is present and concentration and stability of attention, and all meditation ultimately is about developing that stability of attention.
Mm-hmm and about, uh, the possibility of choosing what it is that we attend to and, and, and how long we can stay with that objective contemplation. Because usually, like, if you decide to think about something, what happens is [01:48:00] the mind wanders. You maybe think about it for a few seconds. Uh, and then your mind, you know, wanders off somewhere, uh, you may like if you pick up a leaf on the path and you say, I'm gonna contemplate this leaf and try to understand, you know, the nature of the interconnection of the leaf and the tree and the clouds and the cosmos, you know, but after a while, you know, few seconds probably you're thinking about something else, but if a, as a meditator, you have the capacity to pick an object of contemplation and stay with it.
So that's the fundamental mind skill. And then all the other stuff like RO research and the technology, you know, I see it as kind of like any other tool in the sense that, um, like a knife, you know, a knife can cut, um, but it can cut you as well. You know, it can, it can kill. Um, but it can also serve, like, it can be very, very helpful, um, harmless, uh, you know, if skillfully use, but it can also do a lot of damage.
So [01:49:00] I think all technology is a little bit like that a phone, you know, can be an instrument of total destruction and distraction. Um, but if you use it skillfully, you know, maybe it can be an instrument of connection and, you know, like you can reconcile with somebody maybe tonight, you know, you can call somebody, you thought that you would never be able to speak to again and just forgive them or, you know, uh, listen, be able to really listen to their voice again, you know, and I see that happen.
Like every retreat there's, there's kind of the miracle of reconciliation happens. And we often tell people it's like, like use your telephone, like call them tonight. Don't wait, you know, while you are feeling this love and openness, like reach out connect. Um, but they're very difficult to handle. Like technology sometimes is.[01:50:00]
Taking us, uh, you know, my teacher told this story, sorry, this is not the rapid fire kind of no's great. No, go for it. Yeah. He, he gave a talk actually very important talk. Um, he was invited to Google in 2011 and 2013. And so he gave talks there for the Google employees. Um, and then when he came back to plum, she gave a talk, I think in 2014, which he called, uh, technology is the horse, you know?
So then he, he tells this story, which is, uh, an old Chinese story. I think, um, you know, about a guy who's riding on the back of a horse, very fast, you know, the horse is galloping along and there's a guy on the side of the lane who says, Hey, where are you going? And he says, I don't know, ask the horse. right.
Outta control. The horse is going. And, and then Ty saying, what technology is the horse. We think that we know where we [01:51:00] going, but sometimes, you know, just doing things because we can, and we are just, you know, creating innovations because, because they're possible. And, you know, because it's because we're curious and because we can maybe not always asking ourselves what the ethical implications are.
Um, you know, I know very well. Some of the people who were involved in the, you know, the very small team that were, that created the iPhone and they've shared with me. In a sense, they have a kind of, um, they feel a moral responsibility to, uh, to kind of account for some of the harm. You know, you know, when they go to a restaurant and they see a family, a mother, father, and two children are all looking at iPhones instead of talking to each other, you know, they're realizing like, wow, that's not what we intended.[01:52:00]
And yet that's, that's what happened. You know, you've given people, you know, this, this kind of irresistible addictive thing, this kind of slot machine that they have in their pocket. And they just keep scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. And I think that, so what they told me is that they, what they didn't foresee was the dimension of social media.
You know, cuz I think they, you know, they were working very closely with Steve jobs and they, and they said that for him, it was quite sentimental. It was kind of like give people, their memories, give people their photos so they can always have their photos and give people their music, you know, their emotions.
They could always have their music and always have their photos and always be in touch with their loved ones. Now that's a beautiful vision, but they didn't foresee that on top, on this platform, you would then have Facebook and all other social media and this kind of infinite scroll. And so. Yeah, they, they are now actively engaged in kind of in creating another kind of technology, which would hope they [01:53:00] believe will take us off the screens and more into life and interaction, but it's top secret and I'm not allowed to tell you about it.
[01:53:08] CK: okay. Um, I am, I wish I'm success. It feels like, um, this is about to go into a non wrap, rapid fire question. well, okay. We care about waking people up and transformation, you know, provide them more healing and recovery and transcendence, all the beautiful things that we as human beings, uh, are, and we what's within our reach.
Right. Um, however, I'm curious to know your thoughts. How do we work with the ego? What the ego wants, the ego wants significance, you know, all validation. How, how, how can we create a game that goes with what the ego desires and also give what [01:54:00] they need as well, versus just telling or appeal to the higher self.
Hey, this is a game of no win situation. Like stop doing this. Be more present here and not, you know what I mean? Could you give it back to me how you, how you receive it so we can maybe getting to in the question a bit.
[01:54:21] Brother Spirit: So I would say that, um, we maybe have a perception that ethical conduct, like really like deeply ethical conduct is kind of boring or dull, or it wouldn't be very fun, you know, it's like just eating oatmeal all day long.
It's like, I like oatmeal. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I like oatmeal too, actually oatmeal, but, um, uh, but I think, you know, as you go forward on the path of practice, maybe what you discover, what I [01:55:00] feel like I'm discovering is that, um, ethical conduct is, uh, a relief. It's a refuge. It's, it's a peaceful, joyful, happy place because in that moment that I'm not causing any harm to myself or to anyone else.
Um, I can it's, it's like a that's happiness. That is happiness in that moment because we, we are very sensitive beings. Like we don't want to cause harm. We really Don. And yet pulled by our desires and our craving for fame success, you know, wealth, riches, sex, and so on. Mm-hmm, pulled harm sometimes a lot to ourselves with our various addictions and, and to others around us.
Like we sacrifice our relationships sometimes for our career. You know, we, we, we sacrifice, [01:56:00] um, our dreams, uh, for security, you know, we, we sacrifice, um, our friends for, uh, money, you know, uh, most people who win the lottery end up miserable and regret ever having won it because it tears them apart. It has their, their friendships apart, you know, cuz suddenly everything is distorted by the presence of that, of that inequality of that, of that large amount of money.
Uh, it doesn't help in the way that they think it does or that they think it would. Um, so it's, it's kind of the realization that, uh, not doing harm is the reward. You know, mm-hmm, , that's the happiness already. It's not, and again, it's not in the future. It's now, you know, when I think of my ancestors, it's a practice that we have in our tradition to [01:57:00] realize that our ancestors are all present.
Within us. Right? So my, my father, my mother and my grandparents, but not only my genetic lineage, but my, um, kind of, uh, mentorship lineage, right? All my teachers are in me. You know, my cello teachers, my piano teachers, my composition teachers, my teachers in the spiritual path, my mathematics teachers, they've all touched me and influenced me and shaped me.
Um, and not only that, but, you know, the, the, all my kind of biological ancestry, you know, beyond even the human, but the non-human realms, all the food systems that we're connected into the air that we breathe, you know, we are like completely enmeshed. Um, and when I think back, you know, I see like some of my ancestors struggled, uh, with exactly this, you know, they, they, they, they wanted things.
[01:58:00] Um, and, and those desires caused them sometimes, um, to do harm right. To, to hurt themselves and to hurt those around them. And sometimes that's, it's, it's like a cycle that repeats, you know, and like when your father is hard on you, and then you end up being hard on your own children and you, you know, it's hard, like why am I'm repeating the same pattern?
And yet we do like tr you know, trauma is passed down generations to generation to generation. And so the moment that we get to say. You know, if we, as practitioners, as, as recipients of spiritual lineages that give us the tools to handle those habits and stop them, you know, to handle that suffering and embrace it and heal it and transform it.
We are very lucky because maybe we're the first in the lineage to be able to say, I don't have to be pushed by my desire. [01:59:00] I can say stop. And I can celebrate that in this moment. Even after many, many generations of habit and doing harm I'm in this moment, not doing harm. And that is a win, not just for me, but for the whole lineage.
Like my grandfather in that moment can celebrate, like, cuz it's not wanted, like he didn't want to hurt anyone, you know, but he did out of his habits. And so when I can stop, he also stopped gets to stop mm-hmm and that happiness kind of resonates all the way up. Uh, the, the, the, the, the lineage. And so that's the reward.
[01:59:43] CK: I love it. Is there any last idea at last thought that I know we cover a lot of ground in our conversation? Is there any last thought that SK really wanted to drive this home to your viewer, to your listen? [02:00:00]
[02:00:01] Brother Spirit: Well, I think, um, yeah, one, one very big thing. That's on the horizon. I think for the whole of humanity right now is the climate crisis and the many intersecting crisis of poverty, inequality, um, you know, social injustice, uh, and, uh, racism, sexism, um, discrimination against, you know, uh, gender diversity, all, you know, the full kind of spectrum of the rainbow of humanity.
Um, all these different types of, uh, injustice that we are facing with the collapse of our life support system on this planet, potentially accelerating kind of effects that we are seeing, the, the heat waves, the floods, the fires, um, the storm surges, the hurricanes. Um, [02:01:00] it there's a sense, I think, especially for the young, for, for, for younger people, you know, I maybe people in their teenage in their teens, um, and in their twenties that like, what is my, what is my future?
You know, what does my future look like? You know, I know there's people thinking, like, why should I bother, you know, getting, finishing my education when I don't know if there's gonna be a society in which I can get a job, you know, in, in 20 years, What's the point of having a family, uh, or is it even just to have a child when, you know, the child, the, the world I'm gonna bring this child into maybe is gonna be a lot less diverse and rich and beautiful than the world I was born into.
You know, maybe that's a million species facing extinction. Um, you know, we're gonna have, we're already seeing wars brought on by climate stress and there's probably likely gonna be more, there's gonna be displacement of populations. You know, we're already seeing [02:02:00] climate migrants, parts of the world are gonna become fairly uninhabitable, um, more and more unin uninhabitable, and maybe quicker than we realize.
And those people are gonna look for somewhere else to live. And then our political systems are gonna be strained by that. They'll probably drift to the right, you know, uh, fear, uh, closing borders, increasing nationalism, um, fear of immigration, fear of refugees, all of that could happen. Um, I think it's actually quite likely to happen.
So how can we know that? And, and, and, you know, to the extent that we know it, right, of course, it's all a little bit that there's some projections speculation. We, we, we, we don't know exactly, but the, the writings on the wall, I mean, the, the, the trends are pretty stark. Um, how can we be with that and not fall into despair [02:03:00] and mm-hmm and, uh, how can we still touch joy in every moment, happiness in every moment?
Like how do those things fit together? Knowing what we know, knowing that life is maybe gonna get very difficult and we may see human suffering on a scale that we've never before seen, you know, not even the second world war, you know, that's like millions of people dying. This could be hundreds of millions.
This could be, you know, really, really, really tough. Um, how do we face that? How do we hold that? And how do we still take the action that we can take, right. And not become, uh, indifferent or, or numb or frozen or stuck, or going to panic, uh, or despair. That's a question that I face a lot for myself and many, many people come to us and with that kind of question.
Um, and so, yeah, it's important for me, you know, [02:04:00] uh, thank you for the opportunity. I, I, I, I feel like, uh, it's very,
[02:04:05] CK: are you writing a book by the way on that, because you know, you, you, you raised a really valid point. Yeah. You know, we don't wanna just want to lead people there. Are you writing a book on that or you starting series of talks on it?
[02:04:18] Brother Spirit: Yeah, so I can say a few things. So first of all, there's a wonderful book that just came out last year, called Zen and the art of saving the planet by taking a hand. And we, this to true dedication, uh, wrote a commentary. Um, and, uh, it's, it's a wonderful, wonderful book. So it, it contains, you know, really his, all his deepest teachings on the environment, climate crisis, um, situation of our world.
So whatever I say in a sense is coming from that body of, of teaching as well. And we, all of us young DMA teachers, we continue to try to enrich that strand of, of teaching to offer [02:05:00] talks that are, that are relevant to that. So probably, you know, most of my talks on YouTube at some point or other, you know, I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm relating to that, that kind of, uh, awareness that the, the, the, the anxiety that lives, that dwells within us, um, as a result of that knowledge.
So what I would say, right, not to leave people empty handed, uh, in the face of that. Cause I know it's very heavy, right? It's very like, wow. You know, it, it's, it's very painful to know that we are, co-responsible also for. This world that we, that we live in, we're still participating in the destruction, right?
We still use cars and planes and trains and, and, and energy producing systems that are, you know, dependent on fossil fuels. And we still use plastic packaging and all of these things like, what are we, what can we do? So I would say, um, one thing that I'm very focused on [02:06:00] is that we need to, uh, face the possibility of our own extinction.
It's kind of like facing our own death, right? We know we're gonna die. Right. We don't think about it very much, but actually to think about it, to contemplate our own death every day is very empowering because it makes, you know, the life that we have very precious. We have to realize like the moments that we have still alive on this planet are very, very precious because one day we will die, but that's also true at the level of our civilization.
Like our civilizations end, right? They all, uh, all civilizations before us have, you know, have risen and had a period of prosperity and then, and then have come to an end one way or another. And our, our civilizations are different. At some point it will collapse whether that's in 50 years, a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, we don't know, [02:07:00] but it's very important psychologically to.
Kind of accept that possibility and to see that with, to, to find some serenity with our own death, but also with our collective death, you know, maybe the extinction of humanity, um, is very difficult, but you know, when you, when you, if you can zoom sufficiently to a kind of galactic timescale, universal timescale, you see that well, okay.
So the earth is a, is like a flower in the garden of the galaxy and it is, has this beautiful flower, uh, rich abundance of life. Um, and human life is only one part of that. And the earth will continue. Even if we, as humanity are wiped out by our own, uh, greed and, and stupidity, um, you know, the earth will [02:08:00] bring forth other species and maybe that the, you know, what it is that it, that that is us.
There's something that's, inextinguishable, there's something that will always be carried forward, transmitted, communicated, even if it's in a different form with different species, um, life continues. And so there's, I find serenity in that. And what that allows me to do is to touch peace and freedom.
What's what we call the kind of the ultimate dimension it's like seeing. Eternity in this present moment that you see that we participate in the lifespan of the cosmos, not our, not only our own lifespan, like we are part of something much, much, much bigger, which goes beyond humanity. Like we're not so self important, you know, like humanity is just one aspect of what we are, right.
We are our body. This is only like a [02:09:00] tiny fragment of what we really are. We are also this, we are the world. The environment is not outside of you. It is you. And the environment is not just this planet, but it's the whole cosmos. When you realize that you are the cosmos or the extinction of this body, this species, this civilization doesn't matter so much, but that doesn't make you indifferent.
And it doesn't mean that you don't do anything. What it does is it gives you the freedom from the panic and the despair, then to get back into the historical dimension and stay engaged and stay in action. But you act with the freedom of eternity, right? And with the urgency of the present moment, So we don't want to act with panic and make the situation worse, but we want to act with, with this abundance of peace and serenity and freedom, because maybe then our actions [02:10:00] will have a better impact and be a little bit more sensible.
So then when you come to the action part, okay, this is it, right? The last part, the last thing I will say, we know that in, in the situation of the climate, there are three key things that have to happen, right? We have to have mitigation, which means we have to stop polluting. We have to stop emitting greenhouse gases.
You know, we have to stop doing the harm, right? We have to mitigate the harm. Then we have to have adaptation, which means that we have to adapt to our infrastructure. We have to adapt, you know, our food production. Um, we have to adapt our cities. We have to adapt everything to be able to live on our hotter planet, with more violent weather events, uh, stronger heat waves and fire and flood and all the rest mitigation and adaptation.
Everybody's talking about mitigation and adaptation and then the, but there's a third part, which is human resilience, who is gonna do the mitigation. And the adaptation is [02:11:00] people. And if those people are overwhelmed by basically, you know, climate trauma, you know, the trauma of. seeing other people, you know, maybe millions or tens of millions of people dying, uh, or being displaced or being in situations of war, maybe they themselves being in situations of war, they themselves being displaced.
It's traumatizing. I mean, even just the thought that we might be wiped out can be traumatizing the anxiety that that can bring up. So if everybody's frozen, you know, in overwhelm or trauma, or if they're panicking, then they're not gonna do any mitigation. And they're not gonna do any add any adaptation because they're gonna be freaking out, you know, um, or, or just paralyzed.
Um, and so I think this is the kind of like when I look at, you know, this, what I have received, what we have received as an, as a tradition at the, the kind of lineage of [02:12:00] teachings that we belong to. I think that's where we can really contribute. We can help people to build human resilience. We can help it's basically trauma therapy at scale.
It's kind of like, okay, we need to teach people how to handle the panic, the overwhelm in themselves, first of all, how to be okay with that, like comfort with the discomfort, right? Feeling joy in the present moment, happiness in the present moment, even though things are bad, right. Even when things are really bad to still be able to touch freedom and peace.
And then teach them also to be able to help others who are facing those overwhelming feelings of panic and anxiety. And so you're kind of training the trainers, you know, like you first you have to take care of yourself and then you help the people around you to take care of themselves. And then you learn how to train them as well, to help others.
And then it, and then it spreads [02:13:00] and it scales. And I think that's what, that's, what could maybe make a real difference. And that gives me the kind of sense of urgency of the collective awakening as well, because if we really can become a more compassionate society, a more, uh, awake society, or why is a society one in which, um, you know, there's a deeper understanding of how to generate a feeling of joy in every moment.
And there's a deeper understanding of how to take care of a feeling of pain, a feeling of overwhelm, a feeling of despair in every moment. And those two things are linked, right? Because if you know how to feel generate a feeling of joy, then actually your joy starts to take care of your pain, right? So they're not really separate.
And if you can take care of your pain, well, then you have a lot more joy, uh, and understand, especially you have compassion because once you. , if you are tender and [02:14:00] vulnerable and, and, you know, able to be to contact and to feel your own pain, then you will not be indifferent to the pain of others. Um, and you'll be sensitive to it.
And, uh, and, and you will care, you know, you will want to help. And that's, that's the kind of society I'd like to, to live in. Uh, and I think that's the kind of society as well, that can navigate the various crises that we're in more skillfully and maybe even avoid them. Um, but it's kind of like we're getting down to the wire, you know, it is urgent.
It's urgent that we all wake up because time is time is running out. If we are gonna save this, this civilization of us, I think it's possible. Um, I'm very hopeful about that because I see, you know, wherever I go, I see collective awakening. You know, I see people going on retreats. I see people taking care of themselves.
People wanting to be behave more ethically, take responsibility for their, for their [02:15:00] consumption, their production, their way of life, their relationships, um, and that, so I, I see a lot of reasons for, for, for, for hope, um, for optimism. Uh, and I feel a lot of, uh, I get a lot of energy from that, the sense. This makes a difference, like teaching people how to take care of themselves.
Like, and, and how do I teach them is by doing it myself, like mm-hmm , if I, then there's nothing to teach, you know, I, I really have to be honest with myself, like how well am I taking care of my own suffering, my own emotions, my own, you know, ups and downs. Um, and if I'm doing that, then I think I have something to share with others.
And I, and I see it making a difference, you know, and I say, I, but it's really, we it's like collectively, um, plum village. I, you know, I, I, I really, you know, see the people who come on retreat, they maybe come with a lot of tension around their eyes, anxiety, you [02:16:00] know, things are burning them after five days or a week.
They're glowing, you know, they're fresh, they're full of joy and life and, and, and love. And, and those waves are going out into the world, you know, week after, week after week after every retreat and a thousand people, another thousand, another thousand, you know, they're going out and, and they're touching, you know, people in their families, in their places of work in their schools, communities.
Um, so I think it's, it's happening. The collective awakening is, is well underway. Mm. And I, you also for being, uh, for being a part of that,
[02:16:38] CK: well, the spirit, thank you for such a rich convers. Um, beyond the content, beyond your stories, beyond, you know, the details of how you collectively run this beautiful organization called plum village, I really get your presence.
I really get your [02:17:00] commitment. I really get the work that you're doing first of all to yourself. But second of all, caring for everyone that you interact with, right? The conscientiousness, the intentionality is very palpable. So your teacher, you're, you're definitely a disciple of your teacher, the way you describe him.
So, uh, thank you for the work that you do personally, as well as, uh, what plum village is, is up to. And for those of you that are inspired by brother spirits, words, his teachings, and what he's up to in, in as a way to impact the planet, right? At scale trauma therapy at scale, as he calls it, uh, go to plum village.org and go to a Han foundation.org/donate, they could use your support.
So, yeah. yes. Thank you so much for being
[02:17:53] Brother Spirit: here, but the main support, you know, if you do want to connect and support us, the main thing that you can do [02:18:00] is. Just take a moment to come back to stop what you're doing and take three mindful breaths in and out and just enjoy, enjoy the sensation of being alive.
Enjoy your in breath, smile with your out breath. You recognize that you are still alive. You have a body, you know, you can still hopefully see here, smell, taste, touch, you know, be close to your loved ones. There's still so much to celebrate and to enjoy. And, and it, sometimes we just need to take a little pause.
So that's the, yeah, that's the way you can support really what we're doing is just by bringing a little bit more awareness and mindfulness into your life, uh, and sharing that with, with others.
[02:18:49] CK: But don't forget, donate, donate, donate. yes. Do that and donate. All right. Yeah. Uh, until we meet again, thank you so much.
Monk / composer / teacher / human
Brother Phap Linh, also known as Brother Spirit, is a zen Buddhist monk, musician and seeker. He began his monastic training with Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village in February 2008, and has since composed many of the community’s beloved chants. Before ordaining he studied mathematics at Cambridge and worked professionally as a composer. A co-founder of the Wake Up Movement for young people, today Brother Phap Linh is actively engaged in teaching applied mindfulness to climate activists, business leaders, artists, and scientists.
As a leading voice in the new generation of Buddhist monastics in the West, he is passionate about exploring how meditators and scientists can learn from each other and open new paths of healing and discovery. He has the conviction that a modern form of monasticism can play a crucial role in bringing about a more compassionate society as well as a much needed collective awakening to our interbeing with all life.
(Didn’t see anywhere to put fundraising link so here it is: https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/donate)